Background: Exposure to workplace sexual harassment (SH) has been associated with impaired mental health, but longitudinal studies confirming the relationship are lacking.
Aims: To examine gender differences in prospective associations between SH and psychological distress.
Methods: Baseline questionnaire survey data were collected in 2005 in a representative sample of Norwegian employees. Follow-up data were collected in 2007. SH was measured with the Bergen Sexual Harassment Scale. Psychological distress was measured with the 25 item Hopkins Symptom Checklist (HSCL-25) with cases of psychological distress defined as having a mean score of <1.75. Variables were measured at both baseline and follow-up. Logistic regression analysis was used to analyse data.
Results: Response rates were 57% in 2005 and 75% in 2007 when the final cohort comprised 1775 respondents. After adjusting for baseline distress and age, exposure to SH at baseline was associated with psychological distress at follow-up among women [odds ratio (OR): 2.03; 95% confidence interval (CI): 1.2-3.39] but not men (OR: 1.32; 95% CI: 0.72-2.43). Baseline distress was significantly related to SH at follow-up among men (OR: 3.03; 95% CI: 1.74-5.26) but not women (OR: 1.15; 95% CI: 0.69-1.92).
Conclusions: The study found that SH contributed to subsequent psychological distress among women. Workplace measures against SH would be expected to lead to a reduction in mental disorders. The finding that psychological distress predicts SH among men may indicate either a vulnerability factor or a negative perception mechanism.